Calling Indiana: Explaining Islam via Skype, Author: Issa Abbasi

It was March 1st.  I was checking my email and Facebook when I saw a new message.  Nope, this message wasn’t my Hadith [1]of the Day message, but a message I was not expecting.   The message was from Mr. Curtis, a history teacher from my old high school in New Jersey.  Mr. Curtis was now teaching at Connersville High School in Indiana and had just covered the topic of Islam in his history classes.  In his message, he asked if I was available to Skype his class in the coming week so that his students can participate in an actual dialogue with a Muslim.  The vast majority of students he explained had never met a Muslim in their life and mainly saw Islam and Muslims as a religion and group of people condoning violence and terrorism.

I had some time off from work at the time and agreed to Skype Mr. Curtis’ class.  He added in a reply message to me that the students’ concerns were over a few “Muslims” claiming the return of the Rightly Guided Caliphate and endorsing the use of Shariah [2]law in America.  I really didn’t know where to start my research to ease some of these students’ concerns, but I thought I should be ready for any question that could come my way.

8:20 AM came on Friday, March 11th.  Skype, and the internet in general, was not cooperating on CHS’ side, so I spoke to their classroom by phone for about 15 minutes.  I introduced myself and added that by no means was I a scholar of Islam or someone able to give fatwa.[3] It was now the students’ turn to ask me any questions they had about Islam.  Silence was on the other end of the line.  To ease the tension, I told the students to ask me just about anything and I would be more than willing to try an answer their questions.

The first question came in and I was asked whether or not I had any problems being discriminated against.  I answered that I personally did not have any major problems of being discriminated against, but I most likely owed that to my light complexion and reddish colored beard.  The second question however, threw my off; the student asked me to “describe my typical [New] Jersey day.”  “Are they kidding me?” I thought.  Did they really think I did something that was out of the ordinary in my everyday life?  I started explaining to the class that every day, I wake up, perform ablution[4], pray the first of five daily prayers, shower, eat breakfast, go to work, perform ablution again at lunch time, pray, eat my lunch…do we see a pattern here?  Compared to the average American, with the exception of praying five times daily, my day was no different.

 Since my time was so short with the first of two history classes, the remaining questions focused around marrying in and out of Islam, the dress code in Islam and the shariah law movement.  I summarized the class period by explaining that Shariah law was nothing to be scared about and that a vast majority of it (75 %), explains worship and family or economic law in Islam.  I agreed to have one more session the next Friday to make up for the time we lost due to technical difficulties that morning.

The afternoon class, much like the morning class, asked very similar questions.  The class was very interested in the idea of the marriage process in Islam.  Particularly, the class found the example of my sister’s recent engagement and the process of becoming engaged to be wed in Islam, quite intriguing.  The class was even further fascinated by what they continued to learn about Islam and how Muslims practice their religion in America.

Friday, March 18th came and I now talking to CHS via Skype.  They could see me through their camera and I could see them.  If anyone had any doubt, I was real, had a light complexion and a reddish beard.  The students were thrilled we had another chance to further discuss Islam with a live Muslim and I was thrilled to talk about Islam to a group that was eager to listen.  As questions started coming in, I felt a greater sense of comfort with the students given the questions they were asking; “When is your birthday?” “What did you study in college?”  “What is living in New Jersey like?”  Now that the students had seen past the mysteriousness of a different religion, I felt like my purpose was fulfilled; I was able to demonstrate to two groups of students that Muslims are not anti-Americans, all Arabs, or all any of the countless stereotypes that hate-mongers and media outlays portray us to be and all through a phone call and Skype session.

After our Skype session ended, I was invited to the CHS history class Facebook page.  Before the end of the day, I received a half dozen friend requests on Facebook from the students in the class.  I finally understood what a good friend kept telling my study group about dawah; change about the perception of Islam must come from the heart and not from policy or legislation.  Then, and only then, can we all seek to better understand one another in this increasingly diverse nation and global economy.

[1] A Prophetic saying from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him)
[2] Islamic law
[3] A religious opinion in Islam given by a Scholar.
[4] Islamic ritual required prior to performing prayer (salah)


~ by Yousaf on July 19, 2011.

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